Combining silky sands with art, culture and sun, New Smyrna Beach could be the coolest city you’ve never heard of.
Sitting pretty on central Florida’s Atlantic coast, New Smyrna Beach is a small city that’s big on charm. At 250 years old – ancient by American standards – it’s full of history and character. It’s close to party capital Daytona Beach and thrill-filled Orlando, but its laid-back, boho spirit is in stark contrast to both. If you’re planning a big Florida getaway, we recommend adding NSB to your itinerary to get back to nature, relax by the water, and enjoy the warmest of welcomes from the locals.
On the water
With 17 miles of sandy beaches and North America’s most diverse estuary – the Indian River Lagoon – it’s all about the water at New Smyrna Beach. Get out and explore with a 90-minute paddle-boarding lesson from Paddleboard NSB. It’s suitable for beginners, and you’ll be taken for a trip round the lagoon – the still waters, home to dolphins, make it an unforgettable experience.
To explore further afield, take a sunset boat ride with Turtle Mound River Tours. It takes in the stunning Canaveral National Seashore, and gets you up close to dolphins, who like to frolic in the surf behind the boat.You’ll be served drinks on board, and the sunset – spectacular when viewed from the land– is a sight not to be missed.
Food and drink
Although small in size, there’s no shortage of quality restaurants in NSB. For something a bit different, we recommend “gator bites”, on the menu at CorkScrew Bar & Grille. Scallops and seafood reign supreme – and are particularly good at JB’s Fish Camp and Outriggers Tiki Bar and Grille. American classics like mac ’n’ cheese, corn dogs, tacos and burgers are done brilliantlyat Flagler Tavern, JB’s Fish Camp, Yellow Dog Eats and Breakers respectively. Generally, menus are lengthy and portions are classically American-sized,so you won’t go hungry.
There are local breweries to check out, too. The New Smyrna Beach Brewing Co. is a friendly bar-cum-microbrewery on Canal Street. Popular with locals, you can sit and enjoy taster flights and see the beers being brewed out the back. The Half Wall Restaurant & Brewery offers more of the same but in more of a sports bar setting, with a brilliant food menu, too. Finally, for fans of rum, whisky or moonshine, the Sugar Works Distillery is worth checking out.
Art and culture
New Smyrna Beach’s boho vibe is thanks, in part, to its surf culture. National Geographic magazine named it one of the “World’s Top 20 Surf Towns”, and there’s a museum dedicated to its surfing heritage attached to the New Smyrna Museum of History.
Just down the street from the museum, you’ll find The Hub on Canal. This creative centre is where more than 70 local and regional artists create and exhibit their work. There are studios, artists to meet, works to purchase and live events, including concerts. The surrounding area, known as the arts district, is worth a wander – especially the Little Drug Co, which has its own old-school soda fountain.
Out and about
If you’re feeling energetic, we recommend hiring bikes from Salty Rentals at The Salty Mermaid hotel and going for a ride on the beach. Go at your own pace and enjoy the freedom of flyingon two wheels beside the ocean.
From the beach, you can take the bike up Flagler Avenue, over the North Causeway, stopping at Island Roasters coffee bar for a brew, before carrying on up to Canal Street. The side streets are worth exploring, with their pretty pastel-coloured houses.
Outside of NSB, the nearest big city is Daytona Beach, which is a 25-minute drive away. Known for its motorsports and nightlife, it’s got a reputation as a party town, but with 23 miles of coast, a beautiful old pier and plenty of splash parks and jungle gyms, it offers plenty for a family holiday, too. Kennedy Space Center is about 50 minutes the other way, and Orlando, with all its theme parks and attractions, is about an hour’s drive inland.
Where to stay
For accommodation on the beach, we like SpringHill Suites by Marriott. Located at the end of vibrant Flagler Avenue, its sea-facing rooms and poolside terrace offer great views of the sunrise.
Away from the hustle and bustle, Black Dolphin Inn offers luxurious accommodation overlooking the Indian River. This historic, family-run inn has twice been rated the number two B&B in the US by Trivago. Each of its 14 rooms is individually designed and finished to an impeccably high standard. The staff are friendly, and the in-room TVs show the hotel’s own “dolphin cam” live footage but, for the best experience, we suggest getting up early, grabbing a coffee, and sitting on the private jetty to watch the sun come up.
Need to know
· Rooms at Black Dolphin Inn (Blackdolphininn.com) start from £139 per room, per night, including breakfast. Rooms at SpringHill Suites by Marriott New Smyrna Beach (Marriott.co.uk) start from £123 per room, per night, including breakfast.
· For more information on New Smyrna Beach, go to Visitnsbfl.com.
· Virgin Atlantic (Virginatlantic.com) operates daily flights between London Gatwick and Orlando, with fares starting from £328 return.